The Role of Logic and Story in Our Observations
We all go through life seemingly looking and reading the same things, with out knowing how our sense of flavor can only come from us. This informs our interpretations, and guides our stories.
(Images Courtesy of AI Arta App)
Successful coaches, mentors, and people that criticize me aren’t wrong about how logic is the only way to make sense. “What do you mean?,” they ask… Or react with, “that doesn’t make sense.”
A conversation between Angus Fletcher and Michael Shermer, Jordan Peterson, and others, has me obsessing about “Story Science,” and Project Narrative…, creativity, and the war on writers, and folks that would rather read a “book” than watch a movie, or escape into the Metaverse.
Here’s the thing, many teachers are wrong to see logic as the only kind of thinking . That’s because there are at least two ways to think: logic and story. Each can solve problems the other can’t; each can create things the other, never will.
This dualism of intelligence can be demonstrated both analytically and empirically.
Analytically, story and logic make use of completely different epistemological methods. Logic’s method is equation, or more technically, correlational reasoning, which inhabits the eternal present tense of this equals that. Story’s method is experiment, or more technically, causal speculation, which requires the past /present/ future of this causes that. Each method has its own operational range: Logic’s is stable, high-data environments; story’s is volatile, low- (and even no-) data environments. And while there’s some overlap between these ranges (e.g. , chess, Go, and other board games, at which story can weakly challenge logic; and corporate HR, etcetera, (everyone loves examples!), institutional health care, and other large-scale human systems , at which logic can weakly challenge story), most of what one method can do, the other can’t . Story cannot calculate timeless truths; logic cannot generate original actions.
Empirically, story and logic can be traced to different mechanical operations in the human brain. Which is to say, contrary to what many cognitive scientists once believed(and quite a few still do), the brain does not operate like a computer. It operates partly like a computer, because some of its neuroanatomical sectors(e.g., the visual cortex) think in representations and other logic functions. But the human brain operates largely like a narrative machine, because one of its chief evolved purposes(as evidenced by the antiquity in centrality of its motor regions) is to cogitate in action, and action requires causal speculation, or in other words, storythinking.
This is what often gets missed, by the best of them. They believed that intelligence can be reduced to a single mechanism. And once they equated that mechanism with logic, the only role remaining for story was communication, prompting my teachers to conclude that story’s lone job was to transmit logic’s inferences to folks that lacked the acumen to be logical themselves.
So confident where my teachers in this conclusion that they overlooked its obvious hitch: story could only communicate if the brain cognate it naturally in story. Otherwise, story wouldn’t plug with such ease into our gray matters, cranks and pistons. What my teachers had seen as dumbing down was actually a story machine with a main operating system of human intelligence, a system has helped plot the creative workings of everything from pottery, to flying machines, democracy, to trade networks, agriculture to antibiotics, scripture to everyday ethics.
Narrative’s leading role in human ingenuity doesn’t mean that story is the best way to be smart. Our brain evolved blindly, as did everything biological, so there’s no enlightened design behind our psychology. Like our epiglottis and our lumber spine, it’s a haphazard mix of luck and legacy, and in the specific case of story, its limits have been exposed, not just by the advent of computers (which can marshal their logic gates to identify patterns, run algorithms, and perform other operations impossible for brain’s narrative networks) but also by our own neuroanatomy (which has its self, developed a few computational zones, capable of math tasks that story can’t accomplish).
Yet narrative’s leading role does mean that my teachers’ logic-based curriculum is shortsighted, for two reasons.
First, by devaluing a major way that we naturally think, it has had deeply negative social consequences. It has institutionalized schoolwork (like the common core) that befuddles, shames, and demoralizes students by ruthlessly assessing human brains on tasks—memorization, critical thinking, quantitative reasoning—that are better performed by smartphones and laptops. And it has bred excessive enthusiasm for metrics and data, injecting depersonalization, brittleness, and burnout into our economies, governments, and health care systems.
Second, it overlooks our brain’s natural history. That history is riddled with mystery, but even so, we know that our brain’s logical circuitry isn’t a recent breakthrough that obsolesced story’s antiquated mental technology. Far from it: our brain’s logical circuitry is itself incredibly ancient, originating more than 500 million years ago in the eye networks of Paleozoic sea swimmers. Logic has thus had plenty of time to make its mark, upon the evolution of intelligence; had it outperformed story over the long haul, it would predominate in our head rather than coexisting with storythinking.
These basic facts suggest that smart classrooms, businesses, and cities require more than data-driven decision-making, design, and optimization. And they also spur some rebel questions: what if the philosophers had valued story as highly as logic? Would we have middle schools of creative action and PhD’s and narrative cognition? When we have Silicon Valley start ups building plot technologies to handle the jobs that flummox computer AI.
DM me (Mark Stensland) @PizzaIsATaco on Instagram, so your creative culinary story (you 100% own) can inspire more people, that pay it forward.
“Alberto Capatti, a well-regarded Italian food writer writes about how “the word ‘pizza’ has poisoned etymologists and tormented food historians.” (Modernist Pizza, History and Fundamentals, Nathan Myhrvold, Francisco Migoya, P.7)